4 Reasons You Should Live Like You’re Broke

Businessman holding empty pockets

So you can pay off debt faster.

Debt isn’t cheap. Anyone who’s ever had to throw an unexpected bill on a credit card knows this to be true. On the occasion this happens, it can sometimes feel like it takes all year to pay it off. If you’re living paycheck to paycheck, this can definitely be the case. If you’re spending less, this will give you a chance to pay down that debt a little faster than you’d normally be able to.

So you can save up for awesome experiences.

We all enjoy buying “stuff.” Most the time that stuff isn’t around years later. Sometimes, we’ll remember that stuff we spent our money on years ago, and it seems ridiculous that we thought so highly of it. The things we typically remember most are people and places, and the experiences that come with it. Next time you want to splurge on an object, put that cash into savings and figure out the best way you can spend it on a memory that can last a lifetime.

So your children won’t treasure material possessions.

If you never start your child on a path of not needing to have the same things as the kid down the street, not only will they not feel like their self-worth is based on objects, but they might grow up appreciating the little things in life. They also may be a little more frugal when they’re spending their own money one day.

So you can simplify life.

Things are nice, but life can be amazing even when it’s simple. Teach your children the value of saving money for the future. Show them there’s more to living than a daily trip to Starbucks or the mall. Eat at home more. Avoid using that credit card. Old-fashioned living can be quite satisfying.

Article Source: John Pettit for CUInsight.com

5 Ways to Make Budgeting Easy Even Around the Holidays

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A budget is essential because having a budget is the first step to achieving financial success. “It’s the backbone of everything else that you do financially,” says David Weliver, founder of financial blog MoneyUnder30. “It all comes down to that golden rule of spending less than you earn. A budget is how you control that.” Think you can’t budget around the holidays?  Think again. You can use these helpful budgeting tips all year long!

Follow the Rules

One guideline of budgeting is the 50/30/20 rule. In the simplest terms, 50% of your income should go to your needs, 30% for wants, and 20% for savings.

What’s a need? For most people, that will include housing costs, whether that’s rent and rental insurance or mortgage payments and homeowner’s insurance. Beyond that, spending priorities can vary greatly. Essentials also might include groceries, car payments, cell phone bills, and utilities.

Wants would fit in the flexible spending category. They might include eating out, going to the movies, buying clothes, or other day-to-day expenses that can vary greatly from month to month.

Finally, the 20% you save should go to your financial goals, whether it’s short-term goals, such as saving for a vacation, or long-term goals like funding your retirement.

These guidelines can be adapted to your personal situation. “It’s okay to set your own ratios,” Weliver says. “But the goal is to try to live so that your essentials are 50 percent or less of your income, and then you have money left over.”

Organize Your Money

Once you set your budget, there’s a good chance you’ll need help tracking your progress. You may want to do so using an Excel spreadsheet, a pencil and paper or an online budgeting tool like YNAB.

You may even try the envelope method, for which you use cash that you divvy up between a number of category-labeled envelopes. Once an envelope is empty, you’re done spending for that category that month. It’s an extreme strategy, especially in today’s world of plastic and online payments, but it really works.

Mvelopes digitizes the envelope strategy. It offers a free version, as well as a premium option for $95 a year that comes with additional features, such as the ability to link more than four accounts and create more than 25 envelopes.

Weliver suggests a twist on the envelope method: Try using different bank accounts for different types of spending. One account can be reserved for your fixed essential costs, another for groceries, another for dining out and so on. Of course, you need to make sure you are using fee-free accounts.

Focus on Repaying Debt

If you’re carrying a lot of debt, it can quickly consume your budget.

The minimum amount due on any debt you have must count among your essential expenses. Ideally, you want to pay more than the minimum, even if it means socking away less in savings and investments. “Paying down debt is a form of savings,” says Weliver. The faster you pay off your debt, the more you save in interest charges.

There are two common approaches to paying off debt. With one, you tackle the balances with the highest interest rates first. This one will save you the most on interest charges in the long run. The other strategy, often called the snowball method, involves paying off the smallest debt first, which makes you feel good and encourages you to keep rolling until your debt is gone.

If you are carrying a lot of high interest debt across multiple accounts, it may make sense to consolidate or refinance those loans.

Go Digital

Mint is the reigning king of free budgeting sites and apps, but there are tons of other options that work pretty similarly.

The big idea: You connect the site to your accounts with other financial institutions. The site then tracks all of your money’s movements in one place, automatically categorizing each transaction and organizing your expenses into colorful charts and graphs to help you identify spending trends.

Set Spending and Saving on Autopilot

Once you have your budget in place, setting up automatic contributions for your savings and automatic payments for regular bills can make it a breeze to stay on track. Some companies even provide discounts to people who sign up for automatic payments.

Two apps can help you automate your savings further:

  • Acorns rounds up to the nearest dollar on every purchase you make with a linked checking account and automatically invests the change into a diversified portfolio for you. You can customize your risk tolerance and adapt your investments based on personal preferences.
  • Digit monitors your spending habits and, when it determines you can safely afford it, transfers a small amount of money (typically between $5 to $50 every few days) from your linked checking account to a special Digit savings account.

Automating your budgeting and spending will encourage you to save more and make it easier to achieve your financial goals, even when you’re holiday shopping too!

Article Source: http://www.forbes.com/sites/tomanderson/2016/04/05/5-ways-to-make-budgeting-easy/2/#11f576f1558c

 

9 Signs You’re Spending More Money Than You Have to and How to Fix It

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Sometimes it’s tough to find a healthy balance when it comes to your finances. While it’s nice to treat yourself every so often, doing it on the regular can be one of the signs that you may be spending too much money. Even though money is a taboo topic and can be a sensitive issue, it’s important to be honest with yourself. While it would be great to make millions of dollars and spend it frivolously all over town, you also need to keep your financial future in mind.

According to the financial app Mint, you might want to be more careful with your money if you’re not paying your bills on time, you’re paying for your necessities with credit cards, or you’re struggling to meet minimum payments. If you find yourself dealing with these things on the regular, it might be a good idea to create a budget and start using cash so you can keep an eye on your finances and spend less money. Feeling stressed about money is something that no one should have to deal with on a daily basis – that’s why it’s important to be honest with yourself and be aware of the signs that you’re spending too much.

Need some help in that department? Here are nine signs you may be spending more money than you need to.

1. You Carry A Large Balance On Your Credit Card

Having more than 30% of your credit card limit on your credit card is considered to be a big no-no. If you find that your credit card limit is higher than your savings account, you might want to switch things up. Some credit cards do have tools where you can track your expenses online. You can also use money apps such as Mint to figure out exactly where everything is going.

First Financial’s Visa® Platinum Credit Card comes fully loaded with higher credit lines, lower APR, no annual fee, no balance transfer fees, a 10 day grace period, CURewards redeemable for merchandise and travel and so much more!* Click here to apply online today or transfer your higher rate credit card balance. 

2. You’re Easily Swayed By Your Social Activities

It isn’t fun missing out on adventures with your friends. But while happy hour sounds awesome, paying your bills is even better. According to Business Insiderauthor of Living Well, Spending Less: 12 Secrets to the Good Life, Ruth Soukup says, “This can be as innocent as going out to eat when you’ve already exhausted your restaurant fund for the month, or as extreme as paying rent you can’t afford in order to keep up with your friends.”  It really won’t be fun when you can’t afford your rent – stick to your budget and don’t spend outside your means.

3. You Don’t Have An Emergency Fund

Ideally, you want to have 10 percent of your income in your savings, but even five percent is good – as long as you have some type of savings built up. Essentially, you want to make sure that you have enough in your bank account for those rainy days. According to Business Insider, billionaire John Paul DeJoria – it’s important to always have at least three to six months’ worth of savings in your account, depending on how much you make annually.

4. You’re Living Paycheck To Paycheck

You probably need to re-adjust your finances if you find yourself living from paycheck to paycheck and not saving any money at the end of the month. According to U.S. Money, if you have a budget, but still find yourself short at the end of every month, it might be time to cut your expenses and re-evaluate.

Check out our free budgeting and savings calculators at firstffcu.com to get started!

5. You Don’t Have A Budget

Certified money coach Ashley Feinstein, founder of “Knowing Your Worth” says, “I recommend that every client keep a money journal for at least a couple of weeks to get conscious about where their money is going.” If there’s one thing you need to do ASAP on this list, it’s creating a budget to help get your finances on track.

6. Your Fridge Is Empty

You might be thinking that this has no correlation with your spending habits, but it actually does. Think about it: if your fridge is empty and you never have to do the dishes, it probably means you spend a lot of money eating out. According to the website Cheat Sheet, if you’re spending an average of $45 for two people and eating out for dinner once or twice a week, you’ve probably already spent more than you would on a week of groceries.

7. You Borrow From Friends Or Family

While it’s probably okay to borrow every now and then (in addition to paying them back on a timely manner), you don’t want to be borrowing from friends or family every time you need to pay your rent.  According to the Huffington Post, if you’re constantly asking your friends and family for money, then it means you either are spending way too much or you need to look for a new job.  Not to mention, constantly borrowing from a loved one can put strain and tension in your relationship.

8. You Don’t Know Where Your Money Is Going

If you find yourself forgetting where all your money is going to, whether you use cash or credit, then it might be a sign that you need to fix your finances. According to U.S. Money, people who shop a lot tend to ignore exactly how much money they spend. It’s best to figure out a budget with exactly how much spending money you have, so you know your spending limit.

Try our free, anonymous, debt-management tool – Debt in Focus! In just minutes, you will receive a thorough analysis of your financial situation, including powerful tips by leading financial experts to help you control your debt, build a budget, and start living the life you want to live.

9. You Feel Stressed About Money

The American Psychological Association conducted a survey in 2015 and found that 72% of Americans were stressed about money at least once in the month. One of the key signs you need to pay attention to is how money actually makes you feel. Sometimes finances can make you feel edgy or anxious when you don’t have control over them. However, if you keep track of every penny that goes in and out of your account, then that anxious feeling could subside.

While spending money may bring you happiness, it’s important to budget your finances so you can have some in savings. While there are plenty of ways to spend your money, it doesn’t necessarily mean you should.

*APR varies from 11.15% to 18% when you open your account based on your credit worthiness. This APR is for purchases, balance transfers, and cash advances and will vary with the market based on the Prime Rate. Subject to credit approval. Rates quoted assume excellent borrower credit history. Your actual APR may vary based on your state of residence, approved loan amount, applicable discounts and your credit history. No Annual Fee. Other fees that apply: Cash advance fee of 1% of advance ($5 minimum and $25 maximum), Late Payment Fee of up to $25, Foreign Transaction Fee of 1% plus foreign exchange rate of transaction amount, $5 Card Replacement Fee, and Returned Payment Fee of up to $25. A First Financial membership is required to obtain a VISA Platinum Card and is available to anyone who lives, works, worships, or attends school in Monmouth or Ocean Counties.

Article Source: Raven Ishak for Bustle.com, http://www.bustle.com/articles/170200-9-signs-you-may-be-spending-more-money-than-you-have-to-how-to-fix 

16 Surprising Things to Do to Be Smarter with Your Money

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Between happy hours after work, travel plans, manicures and new pairs of shoes, it seems as though there’s always ample opportunity to spend and spend some more. Unfortunately, giving into our spending desires too often can seriously damage our wallets and bank accounts. Thus, it’s important to take note of your finances and prioritize expenses in order to protect yourself from financial strains and unwanted stress.

When finances are a struggle, it can build a lot of tension that can seep into all aspects of one’s life and interfere with the ability to function, work and maintain healthy relationships. Plus, if you are managing finances with a spouse or partner, there’s double pressure to be responsible and make rational decisions together.

Here are 16 surprising ways to be smarter with money, feel financially balanced in the present and start saving for the future. Trust us, once you set yourself up in a way that is sustainable, you’ll feel more comfortable and happy on a daily basis.

1. Download an App.

“If you want to be smarter with your money you need to use a budgeting tool or app,” says Robbie Doull, associate at Quantitative Risk Management. “I use Mint, but there are hundreds of similar apps, and you can track things ranging from your stock investments to just what’s in your bank account,” he adds. Doull recommends getting a rough monthly spending number and to take note of where your money is going. Apps are great for laying out all of your expenses for you, as we often don’t consider our finances in the moment we are handing over a credit card.

2. Set a Budget.

“Personal finance is a pretty good subreddit devoted to personal budgets. It could be a good place to start if you are making a budget for the first time,” recommends Doull. When coming up with a budget, think about what is realistic for you (how much groceries you need based on your diet) and get rid of accessories that are not important (such as a new bag or pair of shoes). Plus, going under budget never hurts, so don’t feel pressure to meet that requirement each month or week, depending on how you space it out.

3. Grocery Shop Wisely.

Buying fruit and vegetables that are in season is a great way to save money, as prices are lower, and there are usually sales. If you want produce that is either out of season or for a smoothie, buy it frozen, as it’s less expensive and will last longer. Check in with your app to see how much you spend each month on groceries, and try and think about it while shopping. “If I know I spend an average of $150 a month on groceries, I find myself thinking about where I am on that budget when at the store,” expresses Doull.

4. Ask for Samples.

Many stores, especially Whole Foods Market, will allow you to taste the food before purchasing. Make sure that you enjoy the foods you bring home so that you don’t have to waste your money. Plus, sometimes they will give you larger pieces for free. If you ask to try a slice of bread, and you like it, they will often let you take the remainder of the loaf home free of cost. Similarly, if the store is out of a seasoning you like, you can ask someone in the fish or meat department if there is any bit of seasoning they can spare. Usually, you’ll find yourself coming home with a small container!

5. Take Advantage of Business Perks.

“If you work for a company that matches a portion of 401k deposits, it almost always makes sense to get the full matching amount, it’s basically free money that can be used for the future,” advises Doull. Saving money for the future is so important for financial freedom and retirement, as you don’t know what expenses may pop up as you age (medical bills, familial obligations, travel opportunities, etc.). “It should be clearly stated what percentage of contributions your employer will match, and then you can decide how much you want to contribute per month,” says Doull. Figure out what works for you, but start somewhere and now.

6. Set Up an IRA.

If you do not have access to a 401K, it doesn’t mean that you cannot start saving money for retirement. There are two types: Roth and Traditional. “In a Roth IRA, you are taxed before you contribute. So you would pay taxes now, and when you withdraw later in life, you don’t pay any tax. Traditional is basically the opposite, where you are not taxed now, but are taxed on withdrawal,” explains Doull. When deciding, look at your current finances and figure out what your goals are for the future regarding employment. Think about the age you’d like to retire and the type of lifestyle you want to live.

If you need help planning your retirement or have questions about investing, we encourage you to set up a no-cost consultation with the Investment & Retirement Center located at First Financial Federal Credit Union to discuss your savings goals. Contact us at 732.312.1564, email samantha.schertz@cunamutual.com or stop in to see us!*

7. Cook at Home More.

All those restaurant bills certainly add up. Not only is cooking at home healthier, it also help you save money, as you have the option to buy in bulk, purchase deals and save for leftovers during the week. Stock up on meats, produce and nuts to create homemade trail mixes for snacks at work and delicious dinners that can be remodeled for lunch the next day. Buying lunch and snacks during the week can be pricey, so save some money by bringing your own.

8. Change Your Daily Coffee Order.

Do you wake up with a morning pumpkin spice latte with and extra shot, whip and vanilla syrup? Each morning? That cost definitely adds up! Think about some of your habits that are not essential for your wellbeing, energy, or time. Drinking a plain brew or even brewing your own coffee at home can be just as delicious once you adapt to the new taste, and it will give you more wiggle room in your budget for other things.

9. Get Grooming Discounts.

Beauty departments often offer free makeovers, so head to a counter and ask for a “new look.” It’s a great way to save money on both expensive beauty services and daily products, allowing the latter to last way longer. Similarly, many beauty schools will offer free or discounted hairstyle appointments, as it complements the students’ training. Plus, your hair will probably look great!

10. Try New Fitness Classes.

Most studios and gyms offer complimentary classes or passes for new customers, so definitely take advantage of that perk! Varying up your workouts is also beneficial for your body, routine and mind. There might also be referral offers, where if you refer new customers, you’ll receive a discounted price, as well.

11. Go BYOB.

Book reservations at BYOB restaurants to save money when dining out. Alcohol can be extremely pricy, and it’s pretty easy to find BYOB restaurants that serve delicious food. Be wary of a corkage fee; if it exists, bring a bottle that doesn’t require an opener or see if you can bring your own. These restaurants are also really fun for both romantic date nights and larger get-togethers.

12. Share Media Streaming Accounts.

A great way to enjoy your media and still save money is to share media streaming accounts with friends and family. One person can pay for Netflix, another for HBO Go, another for Hulu, and so forth. It’s easy to hook up the streaming accounts to your devices, and with a bowl of popcorn and a soft blanket, it makes for a cozy night in.

13. Reconsider Expiration Dates.

Expiration dates usually indicate an item’s quality and freshness, rather than it’s safety. We often throw food out once it reaches the expiration date, and this can be a serious waste of money. Understanding how long past the expiration date food can last will help eliminate these extra costs.

14. Change Your Commute.

Biking or walking, instead of driving can cut gas costs and enhance your quality of life, as studies show that a long commute can negatively affect one’s wellbeing. If biking or walking isn’t an option, find a carpooling buddy (or two) and take turns to help decrease one another’s expenses. Plus, it’ll be a more pleasurable way to arrive to the office!

15. Align Spending with Your Values.

“Look at money from a ‘freedom’ standpoint and align your spending to your deepest values,” says certified healthy living coach Liz Traines over email correspondence with Bustle. “Money gives you opportunities to do whatever it is you might want to do in your lifetime AKA it provides freedom,” she continues. Think about what you value in life and the behaviors that you embody in order to make mindful decisions.

16. Use a Journal.

If apps and technological gadgets aren’t your thing, stick with a journal to keep track of your expenses, budget and spending goals. “Look back on a week of spending and see what seems unnecessary and what that amount of money could buy you over time (i.e. that one bedroom apartment that would make life so much more peaceful),” advises Traines. Seeing the numbers in print can be a great wake up call.

Being mindful of your spending habits can help you save money for the future and make better decisions in the present. It’s a great feeling to enjoy financial freedom and security, and such chronic uneasiness can be debilitating to one’s wellbeing, self-esteem, health and lifetime goals. By making smart, responsible steps, it’s easy to create a life that is in line with both desires and needs and can pave the way for an exciting future!

*Representatives are registered, securities are sold, and investment advisory services offered through CUNA Brokerage Services, Inc. (CBSI), member FINRA/SIPC, a registered broker/dealer and investment advisor, 2000 Heritage Way, Waverly, Iowa 50677, toll-free 800-369-2862. Non-deposit investment and insurance products are not federally insured, involve investment risk, may lose value and are not obligations of or guaranteed by the financial institution. CBSI is under contract with the financial institution, through the financial services program, to make securities available to members. CUNA Brokerage Services, Inc., is a registered broker/dealer in all fifty states of the United States of America.

Original article source courtesy of Isadora Baum of Bustle.com.

7 Surprising Ways Summer Will Cost You

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We all know that summer comes with expenses — higher-priced fuel fill-ups, increased electricity bills from running the A/C nonstop, and sky-high hotel rates. But there are other items that see an uptick during vacation season that you might not immediately recognize. Here’s a list to watch with your wallet.

1. Bottled Water

We love to wag our fingers at others for buying bottled water — because get a reusable bottle already! — but we also understand that sometimes it’s necessary. Like when it’s hot as lava outside and you’re about to have a heat stroke because you forgot your reusable bottle at home. While it may seem innocuous enough to pick up a bottle at your local convenience store now and then, that’s not usually how it goes down — especially if you have kids.

According to money-saving expert Nedalee Thomas, who also happens to be CEO of a water-filtration company, a family of four will spend a whopping $1,600 on bottled water a year. Uh, come again?

“Consumption is higher in the summer just because of heat and dehydration, but families tend to buy more bottled water when heading out for the day’s activities, spending on average $12 a day for a family of four,” Thomas says. “Theme parks and many venues cost much more.”

The best way to save — if you haven’t already heard it a million times — is to refill BPA-free bottles with your own good filtered water.”

Chanson Water USA provides a comparison chart of annual costs of various types of bottled water versus what it costs to filter your own water at home, and it’s a doozy.

2. Iced Coffee

Drinking more iced coffee during the summer to give yourself a jolt and beat the heat? Well, it’s gonna cost you.

Grub Street did some digging a few years back to find out why iced coffee costs more than hot coffee, and their findings may make your temperature rise. Save yourself some gas on a trip to the java joint, and pocket the extra money you’d be spending on each cup of cold joe, by making your own watered-down pick-me-up at home.

3. Car Maintenance

Another unexpected way summer will cost you extra money is through car maintenance.

“Many dealers and mechanics want to service cars more frequently than the manufacturer recommends, especially during weather transitions, which is both unnecessary and costly,” says car expert Richard Reina. “While hot weather absolutely takes a toll on our vehicles, the best way to cut these costs is taking proper precautions and doing the simple repairs yourself.”

He offers a few DIY ways to avoid the mechanic this summer.

  • Replace wiper blades: A winter’s worth of clearing slush and ice from the windshield takes its toll, resulting in streaking and chattering that you don’t want in spring/summer downpours as it could severely hinder your vision and cause an accident.
  • Check coolant hoses and belts: It’s also important to check coolant hoses and belts for deterioration and wear, and be sure to check all fluid levels. Just as you checked your antifreeze to make sure the freezing point was well below anticipated winter temperatures, check it now to ensure you won’t have a boil over during hot summer driving. By performing this basic auto tuneup yourself, you would save $250, as it only costs $100 to DIY compared to a dealer cost of $350.
  • Test your battery: As much as the winter is harsh on batteries, summer is, too, with the constant running of the cooling fans and the pull on your alternator from driving with the windows down. Test the battery to make sure you don’t get stranded with a no-start on a summer trip. Check the battery connections for tightness and clean away any dirt and corrosion. If it’s time for a new battery, I suggest buying them at local “buyer’s club” (Costco, Sam’s Club) to save money, and change it yourself. You’ll save $120, with DIY costing $80 versus dealer prices of $200.
  • Change your engine oil and filter: Cold weather is tough on engine oil because it doesn’t get a chance to come to normal operating temperature necessary to get rid of moisture and contaminants, which can cause sludge. If you buy the oil yourself, make sure that you are certain that you are using a high-quality oil of the correct viscosity. Often, chain-store oil-change outfits may be using the same oil for different cars. If your car is older with high mileage, it can be very helpful to switch to a heavier oil with different detergent. Higher temps require higher oil weight/viscosity, and since the seals on the engine of an older car have likely started to wear, switching will help keep your engine protected. Also be sure to check the brake/steering/washer fluids while you’re under the hood. This will save you $35, as DIY costs $25 compared to dealer cost of $60.

4. Dining and Drinking Al Fresco

Warmer weather means more opportunity for eating and drinking outdoors, and if you’re not careful, it can get out of hand, financially. Nobody wants to cook indoors when it’s hot out — I get it — so think of alternative ways to eat at home, like by using the outdoor grill more frequently or making meals that don’t require a heat source, like salads, cold soups, and slow-cooker meals. If you’re drinking with your dinner, have a glass of water between adult bevies to reduce the risk of overspending, and tomorrow’s pounding headache.

5. Home and Apartment Rentals

Rental season is at its busiest during the warmer months, from May to October, for several reasons. For starters, this period is a time when many people are in transition, especially students who are looking for housing after the school year ends or before it begins. Plus, this time of year is more conducive to moving, because who wants to haul furniture around during a blizzard? Nobody, including those begrudging friends you’ve enlisted to help you. Because of these factors, and the laws of supply and demand, rental prices may be at a premium during the summer. If you have a choice, wait until the weather gets a bit cooler to make your move.

6. New Cars

According to USAA via TrueCar, you can expect to experience more sticker shock on vehicles during the summer than you would while everybody’s hibernating and generally steering clear of walking around car lots in a foot of snow. Prices increase as the weather warms because, again, of our old friend supply and demand. More people are out and about when things thaw out, and their tax refunds are burning holes in the pockets — an incentive that car dealerships fully take advantage of.

7. Ice Cream

You might think ice cream costs more during the summer because everybody is eating it, but that’s not necessarily the case. It’s sort of the reason why you may see higher prices this year, but it’s mostly because there’s a vanilla shortage in Madagascar because of poor harvest quality, and that means less mint chocolate chip for you, me, and the rest of the cone-loving U.S. population. Hey, at least we still have freeze-pops.

Have a great summer – spend wisely!

*Original article courtesy of Mikey Rox of WiseBread.com.

9 Hacks for a Perfect Monthly Budget

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While the word “budget” may want to send some of us screaming in the other direction, creating a successful budget is actually one of the biggest gifts we can give ourselves. It not only helps you out financially, but it does a ton to reduce the day-to-day anxiety so many of us feel when it comes to our finances.

If you’re losing sleep over your monthly finances but don’t know where to begin, here are eleven helpful tips for getting started with a monthly budget.

Grab Your Calculator and Block Out Some Time

Grab your calculator, a pen and paper, and open that Excel doc — and most importantly, block out some time for this. Really figuring out what you spend can take a few hours, and one of the most important parts of this process is simply scheduling some time to do it.

Record Your Take-Home Pay

The first step in any budgeting process is to figure out how much you take home each month. Don’t include anything that automatically gets subtracted, like a 401k or taxes — you just want to know what you actually have in your pocket each month.

Subtract The Essential Expenses

Subtract all of the “essential” expenses you absolutely have to pay each month, like student loans, rent, car payments, cell phone, etc. Take time to really think about every bill that comes in.

Allocate For Savings

You now have the amount of money you can use for personal choices — as in you can literally do whatever you want with it. Things like groceries, clothes, and take out all fit into this category. And in a piece for Nerd Wallet, financial writer Anika Sekar says this is now when you allocate for savings (or “paying yourself first” as some retirement planners put it). She recommended saving at least 20 percent after taxes, which comes to about 12-16 percent pre-tax. If you already accounted for a retirement fund in a previous step, you can factor it into this assessment.

Assess The Numbers

Now is the time when you assess the balance of your numbers. In a piece for the financial site Learnvest, financial writer Laura Shin recommended the 50/20/30 rule of thumb. This system says that no more than half your income should go to necessary expenses, no more than 20 percent should go to savings, and no more than 30 percent should go to everything else. If your ratio is coming off far from this, think about re-balancing.

Get Into The Nitty-Gritty

Now it’s time to break down that 30 percent, “personal choice,” portion of your budget. Figure out all the little things you spend on each month — from coffee, to manicures, to ordering in. It’s important to be realistic during this process.

Make Some Cuts

It’s entirely possible that after completing the above step you realize that you spend way more than your allocated 30 percent on random stuff. This is the stage where you might need to figure out where you can cut some expenses. Maybe it’s making coffee at home, or limiting yourself to a take out order just once a week, or maybe it’s not letting yourself “just pop in” to a store after work because you know you always end up buying something.

Consider A Money Tracking App

If all of this seems overwhelming, consider a money-tracking app on your phone. DailyWorth.com recommended Mint.com, Goodbudget, and Mvelopes as a few of their top choices for personal budget helpers, but you can definitely research around to see which one best suits your needs.

Remember — Treat Yourself Sometimes!

Budgeting doesn’t mean restriction. It just means knowing where your money is actually going. Don’t get overwhelmed at the thought of a monthly budget or think a solid budget is out of reach. Just remember it’s about informed choices so you can enjoy the money you make!

Article Source: Toria Sheffield for Bustle.com, http://www.bustle.com/articles/159271-9-hacks-for-a-perfect-monthly-budget